The next step in Schoharie County’s economic development efforts will focus on reaching out to local businesses—both successful and struggling—for input, advice and suggestions.
That’s what Cobleskill’s Leo McAllister, who chairs supervisors’ Economic Development Committee, told his group Friday.
Mr. McAllister later briefed the entire board on what’s ahead as well.
Mr. McAllister said consultant Peter Fairweather wants to meet with businesses that may fly under the radar as a way to help put his finger on why they’re successful or what’s challenging that success.
Schoharie Supervisor Chris Tague said those meetings will themselves be more successful one-on-one, where people might be more comfortable talking, instead of in groups.
“Anything that you think we should be feeding Peter, let us know,” Mr. McAllister said, adding in what’s become the effort’s motto, “This thing can’t fail. If it does, we’re done.”
Mr. Fairweather will also be meeting with people like Village of Cobleskill’s Codes Enforcement Officer Mike Piccolo, who’s spearheading economic development efforts there, and SUNY Cobleskill’s Jason Evans, who’s doing the same at the college, to help him interpret the data he’s already collected, Mr. McAllister said.
One example of the kind of data that has both Mr. Fairweather and Mr. Piccolo asking questions are numbers that show the county bucked the nationwide trend in declining forestry-related jobs
“Why was that?” Mr. McAllister asked. “One type of company? Resources? Again, we’re looking for answers.”
Other data collected points to the possibilities for agriculture—even as Summit Supervisor Harold Vroman, another member of the group, pointed out that the price he was getting for his milk in 1975--$10—isn’t much different from what farmers are seeing today.
Gilboa Supervisor Tony Van Glad, a sorghum and small crops farmer, suggested Mr. Fairweather look into ways to spin farm-related businesses off of a proposed Start-Up NY greenhouse project on land rented from SUNY Cobleskill.
Job projections by the New York City-based Chobe Advisors for the $60 million project are as high as 100 people after three years.
“But what about businesses that will be supplying them?” Mr. Van Glad asked. “I use a little bit of commercial stuff. It would be a lot nicer to travel to Cobleskill instead of Schenectady or Albany to buy them.”
Mr. McAllister also talked about efforts he’s begun in his own Town of Cobleskill to streamline the planning process as a way to make it easier for businesses to come in—a move, he said, will no doubt meet resistance.
“Lowe’s would have been open [before the economic downturn of 2008] if we hadn’t dragged out that whole process out,” he said.
County Administrator Steve Wilson told the group that his office gets a couple of “blind” inquiries a month, many of them from state agencies, looking for a very specific type of size—acreage, whether there’s water and sewer, even slope—for unnamed projects.
Every time, he said, his office takes a look at what might be available here, reaching out to County Planning, IDA, Start-Up NY, and supervisors to quickly come to a consensus.
“Since these are over the transom, it’s hard to know how competitive we are,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s still a little passive…” but it works with the staffing he’s got.
After Mr. McAllister briefed the whole board, Fulton Supervisor Phil Skowfoe pointed to the lack of growth from the $2 million the county invested a few years ago along the Route 7 corridor from Cobleskill to Howes Cave.
“It hasn’t generated any businesses” he said, adding, “It’s not like we haven’t been working.”